Wild Is The Wind

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Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:2-9

We are familiar with mountaintops. We have longingly starred upon their majestic beauty from afar. We have stridden in confidence and trepidation towards their sturdy feet, looking up at the insurmountable task. We have endured, step-by-step up the mountaintop until, exhausted, we stood upon it and surveyed the lands below. We are intimately familiar with both figurative and literal mountaintops.

Mountaintops are not just physical earthly forms that divide continents and riddle her landscape with water. Mountaintops are the moments where you dream dreams of liberty and justice for all. Mountaintops are the times when you dare to hunger for equality. Mountaintops are shelters in which you discover your true self away from the violence and hatred of the here and now. Mountaintops are the not yet realized in the fallen world apart from the luscious garden of yore.

Mountaintops are beautiful and alluring. Mountaintops are awe-inspiring and attractive. Mountaintops are exhilarating and intoxicating. Mountaintops are treacherous and risky.

Mountaintops are places where mysterious things happen and what you see is not always what you get. Mountaintops reach in to the heavens beckoning us to look up in to the thin veiled sky and testify to the glories above. Mountaintops are reminders of the finitude and impermanence that plague the human condition.

The problem is that mountaintops do not sustain life. They are semi-barren with little to support you. Mountaintops have the power to transform but they do not have the power to sustain.

It is difficult to visit the history of Black America without engaging mountaintops. This nations history is filled with the ebb and flow of black mountaintops yearning for freedom and equality. Demanding the fullness of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made decree.

Mountaintops shake the foundations of our institutions as they proclaim the injustice of privileged citizenship and point to the hypocrisy of declared liberty. Mountaintops challenge the status quo. Mountaintops are risky. They are risky because they challenge, provoke, and demand. Mountaintops are risky because they magnify silence and invite us into the presence of a whispering God.

The same God that whispered Creation into existence rests upon that mountaintop and guides those that visit that mountaintop towards justice, peace, and liberation from the bonds of this world. Standing in the presence of this power, this whispering God in this mortal coil is risky. We are not prepared to deliver this mortal coil to the presence of Our Creator, Our God.

Mountaintops provide respite from the brokenness of this world and renew our spirit for the journey to life’s valleys. Life cannot be all mountaintops. We are called to walk up and down the mountaintops, through the valleys, and across the rivers of life. This is not a sprint or a race to the top. This is an endurance race of step-by-step, moment-by-moment, relationship-by-relationship of God working, wonderment. We are called to community.

Jesus did not transform alone. He had community surrounding him. He had an inner circle, Disciples, followers, family, and advisories. And upon his last mountaintop Jesus engaged in community and moved from the top to the valley to be near us. Jesus continued to model community for us.

If you stay on the mountaintop there is nothing or nobody present long enough to be in community with. I am reminded of the powerful charge of Howard Thurman when he said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Alive, Is this not what God has commanded of us? Alive, is this not what we have been born into this world to be? ALIVE! One cannot be truly alive up on that mountaintop. Alive is a state we are in as we depart the mountaintop and traverse the lands below, the valleys between those divine, glory-filled breaths of mountaintop glee. Alive, we are called to be alive.

What makes you come alive?

I invite you to close your eyes. Let us walk the valley floor towards the mountaintop. What does it look like? Is it cold? Is it warm? Are there trees as we make our way up that mountain? Feel the earth beneath your feet. What does it feel like? Feel the air fill your lungs. What does it feel like to take breath? What emotions are being evoked? Who is with you? What do you hear as we make our way up the mountain? We near the mountaintop…pause and look from where you have come. Look out over the valley below. What do you see from the mountaintop? What are you feeling as you look out? What emotions are present with you? Let us rest. Take a deep breath in through your mouth, pause, and exhale through your nose. Again, take a breath through your mouth, pause, and exhale through your nose. As you continue to breath, what is God speaking to you up on this mountaintop?

What makes you come alive? As you breath “what” becomes I feel alive…I am alive.

Transformation is here. Purpose is here. We have been to the mountaintop. We are alive. What are we going to do? We dream dreams that we might share our life with this world. It’s good to visit the mountaintop; we are just not supposed to stay there. You can’t stay alive on the mountaintop. You are alive. Go and share this with the world.

AMEN

Get Up, Stand Up.

SAM cartoon

But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Acts 7:55-60

 

In the living room he waits.

 

A collective love surrounds him, emanating from family and friends. The memories flood everyone’s minds. That 6-year-old boy that idolized his older brothers. Overcame a life of hardship. He did all the right things. He stayed away from trouble when his brothers made friends with it.

 

Family conflict and personal crisis clouded his development. He dreamed of better days. A hope to get out of the poverty and violence that surrounded him. He wrestled with himself. The normal teenage questions of who and what am I twisted his capacity to its breaking point. He took it to the field. Out there between the hash marks, on that grass-gilded field, he discovered he was ok.

 

He followed the traditions. He offered his body as a living sacrifice to the gods. He did all that was asked of him. He was a good son. He was a good and faithful disciple. And he did all of this hiding a part of who he was.

 

This night all of the past hurt, the pain of hiding the truth, the hopes and dreams blew open the door and Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay professional football player. This night he is selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft and Michael, exhausted and relieved, hugs his boyfriend and the world shudders.

 

Are you wondering why I bring Michael Sam in to a conversation about Stephen? Ask yourself, why did Stephen get killed? Stephen was a believer with exceptional endowment of divine power that did great wonders and offered signs to the people of God’s grace. He ministered to the Greeks. He was proclaiming a tough word for the establishment to hear. Religious leaders grew to dislike and even despise him because he challenged their power and showed the world there was another way to worship God.

 

Stephen was public about his challenge. It was who he was that challenged the status quo. He did not hide who he was. He accepted and proclaimed to all the message of inclusive faithful being that countered the way things had always been. Those that heard or saw him either loved him and accepted this new way forward or hated him and sought to silence his challenge of power. Stephen was killed because he offered an expansive witness of God’s love that shifted power away from the way it has always been. Because it is always dangerous to challenge power.

 

Now, what about Michael Sam? Michael Sam got drafted and as countless draftees before him, teared up and embraced a loved one and shared a kiss. Only Michael’s loved one was also a man. The reaction was swift. Some took Sam to task for “doing that” on national TV. More proclaimed the end of moral certainty in the US. Many let it roll on by without a care or worry. What began in the mid 70’s with David Kopay, reached a peak that night in May when Michael Sam was drafted. He became the first openly Gay NLF player.

 

A preacher in Georgia has responded. He is organizing a boycott of Visa, who has sponsored Michael Sam, and a boycott of The Saint Louis Rams, who drafted Sam. He is catching steam under a theological proclamation that God abhors homosexuality. That the drafting of Sam has ushered in a new era of shame and moral decay. This pastor and his followers are warning America that the “Gay Agenda” is moving to secure rights for the LGBTQ community.

 

There is one thing I agree with this pastor on, and that is that the Gay Agenda is indeed seeking rights for the LGBTQ community. The Gay Agenda is seeking to affirm and secure the full humanity of God’s created order. As this plays out, yesterday we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the legalization of Same-Sex marriage in Massachusetts.

 

In the years since Massachusetts acknowledge the sanctity of love within Same-Sex partnerships an additional 17 States and the District of Columbia have followed suit. This represents 121 Million people or 38% of the total US population. With another 7 States, including Oklahoma, that are awaiting a higher court verdict to legalize Same-Sex marriage. When these 7 additional States legalize Same-Sex marriage an additional 55.9 Million people will be allowed to fully participate in the Rights we enjoy here today. This would mean that 56% of the US population would live in a State that exercised full equality for its citizenry. This is indeed a watershed moment. Times are changing. This is just in the last 10 years.

 

Where are we as the church? We are declining. We have lost the moral edge. Who knows what really did it? I imagine it was a menagerie of things that has led us to this place. No one event or one theological idea has delivered us to the edges of society. The end result is a church that is isolated from its children and a church that has no idea how to minister where her children are. This is not a Trinity thing, nor a rich church/poor church thing, a black church/white church thing. This is a how we have become lukewarm church holding on to yesterday thing.

 

Michael Sam is our Stephen. Michael Sam is pointing us in a direction; he represents a people, and is showing us how to proceed. Michael is showing us how to connect with our children. Stephen did the same and it got him killed. I hope that we do not stone Michael Sam but that we receive his presence and awaken the Gospel that Jesus the Christ is beckoning us to follow.

 

In the churches zeal to maintain tradition, morality, power, and faithfulness we have forgotten the most important commandment of all…To Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself and to Keep God Above and Before All.

 

I am not suggesting that anyone of you betray your conscience and jump out in to the world as Open and Affirming of the LGBTQ community. I am suggesting that we need to do something when HIV/Aids is a scourge in the Black Community. I am suggesting that we could be preaching the Gospel and offering a space in the church for LGBTQ Christians seeking to run the good race of faith. I am suggesting that we embrace the compelling call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a light in this State for those that are not what some refer to as “traditional.” I am suggesting that we let go of morality and righteousness and hold on to the nearness of Christ and be community first. Can we trust that God will sort out the righteousness and we can focus on welcoming and loving our neighbors?

 

Stephen beckons to his time that the work that Jesus has performed is opening up the Temple to those that dare never step foot in to it before. He challenges the power of the status quo by daring to proclaim that God loves all and that the Messiah, Jesus, has cleared the way to expand the faith of all. Michael Sam is doing the same here for us.

 

He leads us towards greater love and faithfulness. He is beckoning us to follow a path that challenges the way things have been. He is showing us a way to expand our love and how to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. Here is an opportunity for us to embrace as others are damming, judging, and proclaiming tat repentance is needed. We have a chance to step outside of the safety of our walls of tradition and drop the rocks of faith we hold, dust off the stranger, take them to our home for dinner, and listen to their story, as we pray, “Lord do not hold our sin against us.”

 

Losing My Religion

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Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.  Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

My hope for today is that these words are meaningful to you, that I say what I want to say, and that I do not preach for 30 minutes.  The last one might take a minor miracle.  I am a believer of miracles.  I also love magic.  I love to have my beliefs challenged and truth suspended as my mind struggles to make sense of the world around me.  I do not however like clowns all that much.  I like the idea of circus but do not really like going to the circus.  I love modern interpretations of circus.  I am a lover of fairs.  Above all I am a sucker for pageantry and miracles.

Miracles are why I have sought the community of Christ for as long as I have.  Miracles have wet the appetite of my faith as I have traveled lush gardens, cloud-nestled mountaintops, and barren, dry valleys.  I have witnessed miracles that have healed individuals and have restored communities.

Is this not what miracles are for?  Restoration of community and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God?

Miracles and magic are not all that different.  It is all a matter of perspective.

I had an aunt that once talked with an angel.  She owned a beauty saloon in Southern California during the height of the 80’s AIDS epidemic.  Many of her stylists were gay and deeply impacted by this horrible disease.  She was a “good Christian woman” that loved her employees, friends and colleagues in spite of what the church told her at the time.

She worked tirelessly to help her employees as she could.  One day after an employee had succumbed to the horrible disease she took a walk.  She walked past a man on a bus bench.  He was disheveled and looked down on his luck.  She stopped and sat with him and inquired to how he was doing.

He never glanced up at her but shared his story.  Her heavy heart was moved.  She was overcome with joy and invited this man to lunch.  He accepted.  As she stood to depart to lunch she turned to share her joy with the man and he was gone.  She was convinced that this was one of God’s angels sent to her to help her grieving heart.  Kindness was her balm.  Joy was her delight.

I must have heard her tell this story hundreds of times.  Each time the details changed.  The story expanded or contracted.  The moral arch seemed to fit the audience it was shared in.

It is a matter of perspective.

In today’s text we receive a litany of ways in which we are to express faith.  Besides being hospitable to strangers we are called to remember those in prison, regardless if the prison is brick and mortar or flesh and blood.  We are called to bear the torture of their crimes ourselves.  We are bound in the proclamation that if one of us sins, then we all are guilty of that sin.

We are called to honor marriage and liberate our lives from the love of money.  In this we are called to contentment in the provision of God and called to bear justice upon those that seek to unbind the obligation of just provision for all of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creatures.  We are called to remember our leaders, praise God, and never to neglect to do good.

It is a matter of perspective.

If we knew the mundane intricacies of what goes in to a miracle would the gratitude of the answered prayer dim?  Growing up I wanted to be many things, a mathematician, a science teacher, a pastor, a lawyer, an artist, a parent, a partner, and loved.  The path I am on is full of answered and unanswered prayers, all of them miracles in their own way.

I used to be angry at God all the time.  God didn’t protect my heart from love.  God blesses others with what I want.  I would stew in my own hate, pity, and woe unable to see the goodness God kept trying to give me.  God and I have a stormy & rocky love affair.

I spent the better part of ten months working with a therapist to process my experience of God.  I was not your standard variety of angry.  I loathed God.  I loathed God’s people.  I felt abandoned.  I felt alone.  I was bitter.  I was poison to those I loved.  I was broken.  The spirit of depression covered me.  I donned the cloak of Job and cursed God for fashioning me in my mother’s womb.  I barley recognized love.  There was no place lower in this world than my heart.

It is a matter of perspective.

My therapist asked me in one session, “Is there anyway that you can still speak to God?”

I replied, “I cannot talk to God.  It hurts to even try.”

She persisted, “What can you do to express this hurt and anger?”

“I can draw.”

So, I drew.  When prayer could not be uttered nor grace be engaged, I drew.  And in drawing my pain, hurt, and anger God and I renewed a conversation.  There were tears and angry vitriol filled words.  I cussed God up one side of the mountain and back down the other, deep in to the valley of sheol.  My fear of disappointing God departed.  I discovered the goodness of God’s mercy.  I embraced the Spirit of reconciliation and set out towards the long road of recovery.

This is when I meet you.  I was asked to fill the pulpit, just once.  With encouragement from my wife I accepted.  I preached a sermon on Mark 1:4-45 called, “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.”

I offered you these words,

“How often have we cried out those words to God, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” If you choose, you can heal me. If you choose, you can…[fill in the blank.]  Begging the Lord late in to the night, Let this pass from me. Take this pain away. Stop this hurt. Your soul aches. Your heart can’t take anymore. Your spirit is weak and you have nothing left to give. You cry out to God for relief. You don’t really care if it is death or healing, something has got to give.

If you have know this kind of pain, this frustration, and this level of anguish then you have walked in the shoes of the leper. Outside of the city gates the leper sat begging for food. The leper begged for their humanity. They were ostracized, rejected, marginalized, and a shame to all that encountered them.

For the leper even talking to Jesus was an act of defiance. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, a holy man. The leper has heard about this man, Jesus. Jesus has left Capernaum, about 20 miles away, having healed a lot of people and teaching in the local synagogues. The leper sitting at the cities outer gates would have heard about all of these things that Jesus did.

The leper was the first person not possessed by a demon to reach out to Jesus directly. All of the other people healed by Jesus were brought to him. This leper came to Jesus and begged him for healing saying, “”If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Little did you know that I was preaching to myself and have continued to preach to myself, week after week preaching to myself, hoping and praying to God that in doing so that you are being fed.

It is a matter of perspective.

You are the answer to my prayers.  You are that miracle I have been waiting for.  Here in this place the Good News lives.  Here in this place the imitation of the faith of Jesus the Christ is abundant.  Here in this place hospitality is delivered to all.  There is no stranger here.  You have entertained angels and devils with the same compassion and love.  You embrace the sentence of the prisoner and celebrate the divine exoneration that adjudicates us all in to the Kingdom of God.  The love of money is safely behind your love of God.  Your contentment is not misguided rage but a passion that demands justice and dignity for all of God’s creation.  It has always been with you.

Here we are today, the end of this beautiful chapter and the beginning of another.  We are not the same as we were when we met.  Our passion and prayers forever linked.  Our perspectives have changed.  God will not forsake us or leave us.  The seeds we have sown will blossom and bloom.  Their fragrance will fill the air.  The world will breath it in and wonder aloud, “what a sweet scent from where does it arrive?”  And we shall proclaim, “It is the fruit of the lips that confess God’s name and offers itself as a sacrifice of praise to Jesus the Christ.”

A Change Is Gonna Come

IhaveadreamMarines

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?

And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

Today there is much to do about what took place this coming Wednesday some 50 years ago.  50 years ago 300,000 people gathered and marched to fill the National Mall.  There is an iconic photograph that bears witness of a sea of people from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House.  The reflecting pool the only negative space saved from frustration in our demand for jobs and freedom for all.

This action was a culminating act of the collective efforts of millions.  The legend of Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Watkins, Whitney Young, and Bayard Rustin took effect.  These towers of the civil rights movement represented the blood, sweat, and tears of the millions of people that came before and that would follow after.

That day, 50 yeas ago, brought us the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.  This action was a light to the millions of people that experienced then unjust systems of oppression that leveed them to second-class citizenry.  That day delivered the nation to a new way of thought and equality flowed in to the streets and paved the way towards a White House celebration of this nations first Black President.

Or did it?

Our text today offers us an exploration of what it means to be community and the struggle for power that fashions the communities we belong to.  Here Jesus heals a long oppressed and marginalized woman.  A woman that due to her suffering no longer has a place in her society.  She exists as an outsider.  She is a reminder of what would happen to us if we to occupied space deemed unfit or inhuman by the pleasantry of our times.  Jesus’ very act of healing on the Sabbath is a seditious act of treason.  He challenges the status quo and demands attention from the leaders of his day.  This woman lies outside the circle of comfort.  She exists beyond privilege.  She is bear of rights.  She does not exist.

Yet, Jesus acknowledges her.  Jesus touches her.  In touching her Jesus makes himself unclean and draws himself in to relationship.  Jesus fashions a community with her and doing so bears her pain, her woe, and her condition.  Jesus’ speaks to power in community with this marginalized woman.  He heals her and restores her to relationship with others.  Jesus goes in to the margins and brings her back with him.

This is the Gospel of Jesus the Christ at work.  Jesus demands from us that we live in to the wholeness of humanity and embrace the dignity of all.  It is what wholeness is today. Our human dignity and our wholeness is gauged by the least among us.  There is no poverty in this nation.  There is no oppressed in this nation.  There is no privilege in this nation.  Poverty.  Oppression.  Privilege.  These exist by our hands.  These are fashioned and maintained by human hands.

The lazy dog does not oppress.  The sunning cat does not engage poverty.  The hard working mule lives not in privilege.  These are mortal traits of a finite mortal coil to which we are subject and must be liberated from.

Sedition is our call, sedition in all things.  Last week we heard a stirring sermon from the Rev. Sally Wright.  She offered to us that all things she does in the church is seditious because she is a lesbian who is called and ordained to serve the Lord.  There is no diminished act that does not challenge the status quo of the church in her life.

This is the way we are all being called to live, to serve God.  That in Jesus the Christ we are to live in seditious ways that challenge the norms of life and bring about healing.

What are your acts of seditious healing?

I used my expensive seminary skills and exegeted this passage a little and then came up with a translation of my own.  I’d like to read it to you.

Now he was teaching in Congress on the Sabbath.  And just then there appeared a person of color with a spirit that had crippled them for over 200 years. They were bent over and were quite unable to stand against the systemic injustice around them.

When Jesus saw them, he called them over and said, “Child, you are set free from your ailment.”

When he laid his hands on them, immediately injustice fled, they acquired equality and white privilege fled the light, and all began praising God.

But the leaders of Congress, became indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath posture for a political future, make backroom deals, wage war on the common good, and make a comfortable way for yourself?  And ought not these people’s, a Children of Abraham whom Satan bound for 200 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

The woman is you.  The woman is us.

When we heal others we are healing the wholeness of all.  In Jesus’ seditious act of healing, the woman Jesus heals is restored and we are restored in community.  The once fracture bonds and relationships are renewed, restored, and reclaimed.  We become the healing bridge of the Good News of Jesus the Christ.  That is the real seditious act here.  Community.  Community is dangerous.  Community is dangerous because there is no weak link.  Look at migrating herds of animals.  They remain together.  Protecting the smaller, the weaker, the hurt.  The strong do not wield power over the others.  They use the gifts of strength and healthy to protect the herd.  To carry the blessings they enjoy to the next generation.  Lessons learned from the birds in the field and the herd on the plains, we need to be a church that calls for the wholeness of all.

Living wages. The end of poverty & homelessness.  Equality of civil rights.  The freedom from oppressive dehumanization.  This is a struggle for power.  This is a fight for your mind.  Today as we remember the March on Washington let us remember the rally in our hearts.  That God delivers us from what binds us, not that we may be free for ourselves but that we might be free so that we can free others.  And dreaming we will no longer be.

Awakened, we are free striving to free others, we allow freedom’s sweet ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black and white, brown and red, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu, Gay, Straight, Lesbian, and Transgender, all will be able to join hands and sing these words:  Free at last! Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Magic Number

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“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief
comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn,
and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the
thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Luke 12:32-40

Treasure. We are told that what we treasurer in life reflects where our hearts are. A link exists between what
is important to us and what we seek to secure. To be a treasure it has to be secured, protected, and guarded from others. This is what makes a treasure treasured.
From the buried treasure of pirates to the forgotten liberated war loot, treasure has wet the appetite of seekers
and hunters looking for buried, hidden, or guarded treasure for thousands of years. No one seeks treasure that is not buried, hidden, or guarded. Is it really treasure if it is on the nightstand at home?
Where do you keep your treasures? What do you
treasure?

When I was a 10 or 11 my life was influenced by two films, The Goonies and Stand By Me. The Goonies is a film
about a group of down on their luck kids and their families. They are set to be kicked out of their homes because the
local country club is expanding. The kids find themselves on a quest to find One-Eyes Willie’s lost and hidden
treasure. They contend with the Fratelli’s. A family of hoodlums and scoundrels, with a hidden family secret of their own.
The film focuses on the relationships of the kids. Their bonds are strengthened and their personal identities remade in this quest. In the end they discover the lost treasure and are able to fend of the expansionist country club and keep their homes.

 
I desperately wanted to be a Goonie. I identified with them deeply. I imagined myself on a quest to save the family finances, discovering myself along the way. My first crush, Cindy, used to brag at recess that she was cast in The Goonies sequel. My love for her and her staring role remain unsatisfied.

 
Stand By Me is a film about another kind of treasure hunt. I did not really get this treasure hunt until later in life. At
the time I was captivated by all things 1950’s. I fantasized about growing up in the time of my father. Stand By Me is a story about four friends on a quest to find Ray Brower, a local teen that has gone missing.

 
The four friends Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern represent the best and worst of the awkward early-teen years. With
ground beef, beans, and Pez they set off to find Ray. They are unsure of themselves and of what they will do
when they find Ray. Walking on train tracks singing songs of Lollipops and Paladin, the young friends test their limits
and discover a deep bond. A bond that moves past nostalgia and in to the deepest parts of ones soul. These four young men discovered a treasure beyond measure. The treasure beyond description. They found compassion, heartache, and peace as they discovered the treasures of God in each other and in the quest they were on.

 
Treasure comes from the Greek word, θησαυρός (thesaurus), which literally means treasure store. Treasure is a concentration of lost or forgotten riches ready to be discovered. To be treasure something must be lost or forgotten and waiting to be discovered.

 
In today’s text we are being called to examine our lives and explore what treasures we are guarding. With our
hearts as the metric for what we hold dear. We hear of contrasting spaces. One is a treasure that may be
discovered and stolen by others. A treasure that has limitations. A treasure that binds us to is keeping. A
treasure that is really a prison.

 
This is contrasted with another type of treasure. A treasure of infinite possibility. A treasure that cannot fade,
tarnish, or depart. A treasure that cannot be stolen. A treasure that liberates us from this mortal coil and places
us at the doorsteps of an eternal Kingdom. These are the contrasting treasures of humanity and of God.

 
No matter which treasure we seek we are bound to it. We are bound to its protection. We are bound to its upkeep.
The treasure of humanity binds us to finitude, preventing us from receiving the reconciled, revealed glory of the
Kingdom of God. The treasure of God beacons us beyond our own frailty and welcomes us in to the eternal rafters of God’s Eternal Kingdom.

Life In A Glass House

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Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?  Under the apple tree I awakened you.  There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.  If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.

Song of Songs 8:5-7

I was trying to figure out how I was going to conclude our study of the Song of Songs this morning.  It has been an interesting few weeks.  I feared I left myself nowhere to go after last week’s bacon, sex, love story, and God sermon.  Really, where can you go after that?  I sought help from my preacher colleagues.

Some gave me beautiful exegetical lenses of our bodies being the storyboard of life.  Our lives mark and fashion our bodies as life happens.  Our stories are scored like some kind of vinyl record to be played upon exit from this world.  I like the idea of our bodies as a vehicle of sharing our stories.

Other colleagues directed me to take care of myself and rest.  I have been rather tired.  I have felt like overwhelmed at times by this summer.  So I heeded their advice and nap upon the sofa.  I found myself watching cartoons.  I loved cartoons as a child.  I especially loved those Japanese cartoons that were recycled in the States about robots, monsters, mechs, and invaders.  Cartoons like Robotech, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z, and Voltron.

VOLTRON!  The green lion (left arm), red lion (right arm), yellow lion (left leg), blue lion (right leg), and the black lion (the chest).  Voltron was made of 5 individual parts that came together to for a powerful defender of the universe.  The separate parts were strong in their own right but together they wielded an awesome energy sword.  I am not suggesting that we ought to wield an energy sword or anything.  I am suggesting that we are better together as one then we are as individuals.  I will seek to connect the past few sermons in to one powerful weapon of God’s love.

For the past few weeks we have wrestled with the Song of Songs.  That delectable little book of love, intrigue, and desire.  We explored the passionate banter between a couple that hungers for each others presence and heard the testimony of their closest friends as their love challenges the worlds norms.

Green Lion (left arm).  We began with, “You are more beautiful than you imagine.”  We learned that our beauty is a reflection of who we are as Gods beloved creatures.  That beauty is our fearfully and wonderfully made inheritance as children of God.  The Song of Songs offers us a portrait love that celebrates the body.  We explored the Song of Songs and felt the fully realized passion, identity, expression, wholeness, and beauty of our bodies.  We discovered that these mortal coils are more than reflections of dominate culture bound in violated images of God.  We learned that our bodies are the liberated reminders of the courage we are imbued with to unmask the idols of culture and faith and live in to the sacred call of Christ, to love and be peace in this world.

Red lion (right arm).  We explored three different perspectives of beauty given to us in scripture.  The first is passionate and representative of the human spirit.  It challenges the law and demands to be noticed.  The second is calm and peaceful.  It is patient and kind.  It sooths quietly and demands little.  The third is demanding and representative of works.  It is practical and abides by the law.  They all describe beauty none the less.

Yellow lion (left leg).  We celebrated that the body matters.  The body being your body, our bodies, and the Body of Jesus the Christ.  The body matters in the face of injustice all the more.  It matters because there are two kingdoms.  US & Them, The Haves and the Have Not’s.  Those in power like to define the conversation as a have and have not.  Power likes to deny the tined color bias that segregates the nation in to “US” and “THEM.”  US gets to define the rules and cries foul when THEM gets nearer to justice.

Blue lion (right leg).  Our bodies store the love found in the Song of Songs and this enhances the daily experience of life.  This love does not merely add value to life.  It makes life worth living.  This love penetrates the deepest level of ones soul and inhabits that primal place of our being.  This love is the intimate encounter of Creator and creation.  Words of description pale in its encounter.  They may speak of it but may never exhaust the passion and desperate nature of ones longing for this love.  For this is the love of beginnings.  The love of peace.  The love of compassion.  The love of God.

We have all the appendages and now only need the body.  The black lion (the chest) holds it all together.  What could hold it all together?  Our beautiful reflection, our diversity of beauty, our bodies as vehicles of liberation, and our bodies as storehouses of Gods love…what could hold it all together?

Jesus.  Jesus the Christ is our black lion.

Last week we ended with, “Are we afraid of an intimate God?  Jesus is that intimate God.  The God that lovingly called out to us to come and follow him.  Knowing that following him would cost us everything, Jesus beckons us to a new way.  Jesus bears the anger and woe of the world.  Jesus aches for us to be near him.

Jesus holds it all together.  Jesus is not the end of our story.  He is just the beginning.

House Of Cards

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How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful!

Your eyes are doves behind your veil.

Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead.

Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved.

Your lips are like a crimson thread, and your mouth is lovely.

Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.

How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!

How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!

Song of Songs 4:1-3,7,9-10

In Song of Solomon we discover a passion, a longing for another, the kind of love that is impatient and moving.  The kind of love in Song of Solomon demands intimacy, nearness.  It transforms our desires and priorities.  This love paints the way we see and relate to the world.

When we love with abandon, as we see in Song of Solomon, our focus is on the object of our love.  The fine and valued things of our world pale in comparison to the moments you encounter this love.  You radiate this love.  Others cannot engage you absent of your desire for this love.

This kind of love is illustrated in the parable of the treasure and pearl.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  In this the Kingdom of God is love itself.  The gospel Jesus brings to us is that of love.

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”  Our bodies are the storehouse of God’s love.

Our bodies store the love found in the Song of Songs and this enhances the daily experience of life.  This love does not merely add value to life.  It makes life worth living.  This love penetrates the deepest level of ones soul and inhabits that primal place of our being.  This love is the intimate encounter of Creator and creation.  Words of description pale in its encounter.  They may speak of it but may never exhaust the passion and desperate nature of ones longing for this love.  For this is the love of beginnings.  The love of peace.  The love of compassion.  The love of God.

This is not a love of rational thought and reason.  We cannot quantify this love.  There is no formulaic respond to it.  Decency and order no longer spawn embarrassment and reserve.  Rather our deepest desires are revealed and we may respond to them.

What can we point to in our lives that inspire a love like that in Song of Songs?  We long for God and wait to be transformed.  With abandon we endeavor an encounter with God.  It is in this pursuit that fulfillment arrives.  One cannot be near God without intimacy.  This requires of us a single-minded nature towards intimacy.

If the text is received with a literal interpretation we awaken to a deep intimacy that is available to creation.  We are provided a window into the poetic and beautiful recesses of human longing and desire.  Those intimate connections to others spark in us pleasure, contentment, completion, and joy.

This kind of love found in Song of Songs suggests a dependence of creation to its Creator.  Looking to Jesus Christ as the lover of our soul we see a collective revelation of hope and grace.  In Christ we are awakened to the possibility of love and its transforming witness.  This is made possible through an intimate love that hungers impatiently awaiting a response.

When we engage each other with the love described in the Song of Songs we love as God loves us.  Our crude idea of love, when viewed in distinctly human terms, subjugates God’s love to the sole physical action.  This is the veil to which sin rests.  The love ascribed to God in the Song of Songs suggests that there is something more to life than what we physically encounter.  This is the hope in which resurrection in Jesus Christ is revealed to the world and proclaimed in the passionate sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  The very act of reconciliation is first in the movement towards transformation.  This is progressed in a deep passionate, impatient and longing desire to be near God.

That same love Jesus offers in parable after parable.  That love of Christ that points us towards change, redemption, and reconciliation.  The longings of our heart are fulfilled in intimacy with Jesus that directs us towards each other.  We become surrogates of the love of Jesus the Christ, to ourselves, to each other, and to the world.

If we are to reclaim the Song of Songs in our teaching and preaching we must embrace the sexual culture that surrounds us.  We must engage the church in matters of desire, longing, and passions.  To sanitize God as an ambient light within the sexual context relegates the church to shame and guilt when encountering their personal desires and passions.

We must communicate from pulpits, with Bible studies, and in small groups the passionate response to God’s beloved creation in Jesus Christ.  Today it is difficult to engage a board and lethargic culture that levees Christianity to soap box rhetoric and revival like television programs.  If we are to effectively communicate the human condition of depravity in sin and estrangement from God we must not fear abandonment of decency and order.

If it is transformation we seek in Christ then the passionate desperation that emanates from the Song of Songs must be our guide.  The song captures our human emotions and evokes a relation like no other text in the canon.  In our rapid fire, instant gratified culture we must be like Christ and meet creation where it is.

It is in this passionate human response to an object worthy of affection that we learn to relate to each other and creation in a Godly fashion.  The theologian David Carr speaks of this in the paper, Functional Decanonization of the Song of Songs.  He writes, “deprived of the Song of Songs as a theological recourse, they [modern Biblical scholars] were less able to see the erotic potential of their relationship with God and the world.[1]

Carr goes on to suggest that we must work to open up a “historically crude” awareness of the Song of Songs.  The treasure of wealth that has remained hidden can be uncovered.  To achieve this we must dig through the historical settings and influences that lie in the continuous dialog of literal and allegorical interpretation.

I believe that the two perspectives work in unison with each other.  A literal application of the Song of Songs to human love and an intimate and impatient desire to be fulfilled embarks us on a journey of close interpersonal connections with each other.  Can we relate to God with fire and passion that leads to transformation absent of a human understanding?  To do so would, neglect the full humanity of Jesus Christ.

If we remain at a literal application of the Song of Songs we miss out on the benefit of the deeper meaning.  When we look to this passionate, impatient, and perhaps lustful account of relationship with allegorical eyes new vision is given and new life is presented.  This is transformation.  We are truly transformed when we look to God as our lover and hunger ravenously for a fleeting encounter.

In order to reclaim the Song of Songs for the church today we must engage the text in an honest, vulnerable, and passionate fashion.  Teaching and preaching from this text in light of the reconciliation present in Jesus Christ is one way to reclaim this passage.  First we must not fear our Eros (our carnal desires) and cease the red faced giggles from the back of the church as human passion is proclaimed and ventured towards our most Holy and perfect union as one reconciled in Christ.

The principal meaning of the Song of Songs is responding to God’s call on our lives.  This response must be vulnerable, intimate, and transforming.  As we become awakened to our state of estrangement from God we discover the same passion and longing that is depicted here in Song of Songs.

We awaken desperately seeking to draw near God in an exhaustive, unashamed pursuit of Jesus the Christ.  When we love in a radical passionate manner we are transformed and become agents of God’s transforming love.  This challenges the status quo thus transforming creation.

This leaves us with one question, “Are we afraid of an intimate God?”


[1] Canonization and Decanonization, page 185

How To Disappear Completly

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How does one preach of the body today?  The body matters stills.  In light of last nights verdict the body matters all the more.  This mortal coil containing the hopes, dreams, and life-force of a black teenaged boy.  A boy walking home from the store when dominance appears.  The body matters.  If nothing else is said this morning I want you to hear that the body matters.

Because the body matters, we failed last night.  Justice escaped the lips of 6 women charged with returning justice to the lifeless body of Ms. Martin’s son.  This nations collective breath held.  Some rejoice, claiming that justice was served.  That standing ones ground is necessary to prevent thugs from overtaking your hard-earned possessions.  Others exist, restless and afraid.  The veil of safety has been removed.  Gone is the air of equality.

Post-racial America? Hardly.  We are not anywhere close to that ideal.

Today is not a day for silly antidotes, light-hearted humor, or pointing to the heavens proclaiming justice is on its way.  Justice has failed.  Justice, if she was ever blind, failed to see the injustice of the death of a black teenage boy at the hands of a grown man.

I want to comfort you.  I want to be a good pastor and deliver a rousing sermon of comfort, peace, and divine wisdom.  I cannot.  Not today.  Perhaps next week.  Next week I promise I will pray, fast, and beg God for justice and then I can bring it here.  Today I shamefully don my privilege.

I am afraid.  I am filled with emotions that I both feel shameful of and gratitude.  I do not have to justify my presence to authorities.  I do not have to qualify my anger or frustration towards injustice.  I can walk away from this matter, put my head in the sand and not be bothered by it.  I am free to wander this earth and look for meaning.  I can do this because I do not have to worry about survival.

Last night my timeline blew up.  The first one was, “WOW!”  The next was, “Disbelief, I thought he’d at least het manslaughter.”  I searched out People of Color to listen to and found a seemingly never ending stream of voice after voice expressing anger, hurt, frustration, exhaustion, and hopelessness.  One twitter commentator said, “I don’t hate white people.  I don’t hate George Zimmerman either.  It’s not that suddenly we all hate.  It’s that suddenly none of us feel safe.  That is what the verdict did.  It took away the luxury of being able to feel safe.”

My largely white, liberal circle blew up with emotions.  Guilt.  Shame.  Disgust.  Then the “I am Trayvon campaign rolled out again.  People posting pictures of hoodies or Trayvon with the words, “I am Trayvon” across them.  It is intended as a symbol of solidarity.  A symbol stating that we are outraged along with you, Black America.

Today, right now it serves to silent black voices and coopt the pain and fear that rests heavy upon the hearts and minds of Black America.  We will never be the same.  The US has to change.  Right now, today I pray we feel the pain, the anger, the hurt, and the fear.  I pray that there is capacity of the liberal, progressive white America to hold on, chill, and pause.  Ms. Martin’s son was denied justice.  Black America just received another reminder that the justice system we are all subject to does not include them.  The justice system is rooted in the racism, segregated past of this Nation.  I’m not Trayvon Martin. I’m part of the problem. I’m part of the dominant culture that oppresses & binds others to injustice for my benefit.  It is terrifying to be here today.  I honestly pondered the thought of quitting.  I want to run away and hide.  I worry about what confronting the pain in your eyes will do to me.  See I make it about me.  If it is about me I can dismiss it or seek to mitigate the injustice.  This is privilege.  The same privilege that killed Trayvon & found his killer not guilty is the same privilege that would allow me to quit and walk away.

There are at least two United States.  There are two kingdoms.  These boundaries are clear as day.  Those in the power like to define the conversation as a have and have not.  The power likes to deny the tined color bias that segregates the nation in to “US” and “THEM.”  US gets to define the rules and cries foul when THEM gets nearer to justice.

Outside of this I have nothing.  Talking about the body seems inappropriate today.  But it matters.  The body matters.

Creep

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Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!  For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you.  Draw me after you, let us make haste.  The king has brought me into his chambers.  We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.

I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.  Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me.  My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!

Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions?

Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.  We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.  While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance.  My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts.  My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi.

Ah, you are beautiful, my love; ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.  Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.

Song of Song 1:2-7, 10-16

“I am black and beautiful”, She speaks, contending that her beauty is not a product of her station in life.  She challenges the upper class concept of beauty being attached to ones living conditions.  The higher ones social status is the greater their beauty must be.  She is setting up her beauty as independent of her social status.

The use of “and” eliminates the possibility that her blackness is a condition.  The world wants her to use “but” here and make her blackness a hindrance to her beauty.  That she is beautiful in spite of her blackness.  This would make her love an aberration, under a special clause.  Therefore, her love would not challenge the status quo.

This is further supported by the claim of theologian Cheryl Exum as she states, “Black indicates color, not race…Clearly the woman sees herself as both black and beautiful; the question is how beauty and blackness are related.”  Her beauty is not the marginalizing factor.  It is her blackness prescribed by her work in the fields.  This was something that lower-class women would have had to perform.  The question is about her breaking through the veil of social class.

This is where her beauty arrives.  She is beautiful because she has black skin, not in spite of it.  She is challenging the status quo.  She demands her lover tend to her needs.  She is unashamed in her description of her desires for her lover.  She is also bold in her assertion that she is black and beautiful.  She will not let the daughters of Israel direct her in social decency and decorum.  She is beautiful in her departure from marginalization and into her lovers waiting arms.  She becomes a symbol of liberation.

The passage as a whole takes on new light when viewing it from the hermeneutic of rebellion against the status quo.  It is her passion and desire to break free of her constraints.  Be they social, political, or religious she is willing to leave it all behind to enter the chambers of her lover.  She fears not the penalty of her actions.  She is undaunted and unapologetic in her pursuit of him.

Neither is he ashamed.  He receives strength as she pursues him.  The world becomes more focused and clear.  His longing matches hers and a true union of souls emerge.  This inspires the host of witnesses to long and marvel at this love and urn for this kind of passion.  To hunger to be free.  Liberation dances upon their lips and their hearts ache to break free from the status quo.

What happens when we are taken up by this kind of passion?  As a reader, we become involved and invested with their love and soon long for it.  This becomes the standard to which human love is measured.  I cannot stop here.  Just as the woman of the Song of Songs challenges the status quo, we too must endeavor to resist conformity of the current depraved circumstance that bind us to status quo.  Preventing us from experiencing the full and consuming love of God, of each other.

It is here that we move from a passionate, impatient, lustful, desirous, and hungry human love towards something more.  We look to God, our beloved Creator, and the longing and desire present in the Most High and awaken to know that to be loved and hunger passionately for the love of God is to bear that same witness in and with others.  It is here we move from a literal interpretation into a mystical allegorical rendering of God’s divine love story with us the beloved creation.

Physical beauty in the Song of Songs lies in passion and desire that cater to eroticism.  The beauty of the woman in chapter one is defined by her longings and her experience.  Her pursuit of her lover adds to her beauty.  There is no checklist that asserts her beauty.

In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 beauty lies in the heart.  In verse seven we see God’s designation of beauty as, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  Here we see that it is not the things that are said or done.  Rather it is the heart that provides beauty.

This is then countered with a description of David in verse twelve, “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  This contrasts verse five of the Song of Songs in its declaration, “I am black and beautiful.”  The outward appearance of David is beautiful.  This vision of beauty is determined by the beauty of David’s heart.  It is not necessarily David’s outward beauty that is visible, but David’s heart radiates externally and is witnessed as beauty.

As it is the woman in the Song of Songs desire to strive against the status quo that provides her beauty.  So too David’s beauty lies in his unique circumstance.  He is smaller than the rest and is not thought of as one that could be anointed.  The Lord does not see as we see.  Beauty to God is present in motivation and in the divine creative process in and of itself.

We find an entirely different understanding of beauty in Proverbs 31:10-31.  The Song of Songs idea of beauty yields a poetic list of inspired qualities in comparison to the love felt and yearned for.  Proverbs has a checklist of attributes that are ascribed to what a beautiful woman will exhibit.  Her beauty does not lie in passion and untamed actions and desires.  The beauty of Proverbs is rooted is practical chores that tend to the status quo.

In verse ten we find, “She is far more precious than jewels”, in verse twelve, “She does him good, and not harm”, verse thirteen, “She seeks”, verse fourteen, “she brings”, verse fifteen, “She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household”, verse sixteen, “She considers”, verse nineteen, “She puts”, and in verses twenty-two and twenty-four, “She makes.”  Her beauty lies in her actions that care for and provide for the husband and family.

She is not idle or unkind.  She speaks wisdom and is strong.  Physical beauty is considered vain here.  Charm or persuasion is deceitful.  The beauty of the Song of Solomon would not be tolerated in Proverbs.  It is deplorable.

We have three different perspectives on beauty.  One is passionate and representative of the human spirit.  It challenges the law and demands to be noticed.  The next is calm and peaceful.  It is patient and kind.  It sooths quietly and demands little.  The last is also demanding and representative of works.  It is practical and abides by the law.  They all describe beauty none the less.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Love of beauty is taste.  The creation of beauty is art.”  Beauty is as beauty does.  Go and be artists in the world.

Intervention

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I am weathered but still elegant,
 oh, dear sisters in Jerusalem,
Weather-darkened like Kedar desert tents,
 time-softened like Solomon’s Temple hangings.
  Don’t look down on me because I’m dark,
 darkened by the sun’s harsh rays.
  My brothers ridiculed me and sent me to work in the fields.
  They made me care for the face of the earth,
 but I had no time to care for my own face.

Get up, my dear friend,
 fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
  Look around you: Winter is over;
 the winter rains are over, gone!
  Spring flowers are in blossom all over.  The whole world’s a choir—and singing!
  Spring warblers are filling the forest
 with sweet harmonies.
  Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,
 and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms.
  Oh, get up, dear friend,
 my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
  Come, my shy and modest dove—
leave your seclusion, come out in the open.
  Let me see your face,
 let me hear your voice.
  For your voice is soothing
 and your face is ravishing.

Song of Songs 1:5-6, 2:10-14

Recently my parents sent me a box.  It contained momentous that they or I had kept.  These momentous spoke of the things I had held on to of the last 25 years.  It is interesting to explore the things that once defined you, the things that you once held dear.

I spent a day unpacking this box, pulling out the carefully wrapped items.  An old tarnished brass bell that my grandfather once owned that used to adorn the wall of my teenage bedroom.  My high school letterman jacket that is still brand new.  I never wore it to school or since.  A tin of love letters and pen pals, that might have been love letters if I could have had the courage to articulate it as such.  My senior yearbook and an old photo album.

I spent the day carefully glancing at the handwritten notes throughout the yearbook struggling to remember the faces that went with these words.  These words of kindness.  These words of encouragement.  The world, our lives, were a wide open plain set before us to explore.

The youth in our voices only matched by the youth in our faces.  The brightness in our eyes illuminated our hope.  As the past has a way of doing, my time paused and reflection delivered me to yesterday.  The condition of my life with its stinging morsels of love.  Its delicious conviction of mind and moral fortitude.  The utter neglect heaped upon a body that worked like a dream and the inability to know what kind of gift we were really living with.

The photographs affirmed my thoughts.  The smoothness of our skin.  The absence of extravagant curves.  The ease in which smiles appeared upon our faces.  The delight that inhabited my heart in that moment pointed to the thin places present around us all as we ponder yesterday.  As we ponder what our bodies once were.

We were in those moments unaware of the power and majesty we possessed.  Our bodies and minds eluded the peace and strength we pretended to have.  Uncertain about who or what we really were.  The softness of soul coupled with the hardness of cultural separation.  Body image was a common theme we all sought to ignore.

Comparing ourselves to others.  Measuring up the best of others to the worst of our own.  Bombarded with what we needed to be beautiful, thin, popular, or loved.  It was never enough.  The confidence and hope that once filled our faces was replaced with dysfunction and secrets.

Like the popular zombie tale our once vibrant and healthy bodies were replaced by the mindless, flesh hungry slow waltz of creepers, walkers, and garden-variety zombies.  Obsessed with staying young.  Youth is a high desired commodity.  Ignoring the natural process ones body descends.

In her article titled, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” Mary Schmich offers us a series of folky, wise tidbits of advice.  Such as,

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

 

“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”

I read these 17 years later and realize the truth and value in her words.  It’s like finally getting the punchline from those jokes your uncles used to tell each other.  There is a power and beauty to our youth.  Our bodies are amazing.  They are indeed the greatest instruments we will ever own.  We do not realize how beautiful and amazing we are.  It is God whispering in our ears, “You are more beautiful than you imagine.  You are made in my image.  You are beautiful.  You have my eyes.  My lips.  My heart.  You have my love”

Earlier this year Dove got together a group of people together and a police sketch artist.  The artist first meet with folks and asked them to describe themselves.  The artist drew what they described.

As everyone waited to meet with the artist they hung out with each other.  They got to know each other, laughed, shared stories of themselves, and built relationships.  Then the police artist met with the other people and asked them to describe their newly acquainted friends.

They described the power in their stories.  They described the beauty in their eyes, their lips, their smiles, and their face.  The artist sketched what they shared.  Then the individuals that were sketched were brought to look at the two sketches side-by-side.  Tears flowed as they all realized that they were not what they thought they were.  Beauty leapt from the sketch others described of them and beauty hidden in the sketches that they themselves described.  They were more beautiful than they imagined.

The PC(USA)’s Brief Statement of Faith says, In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.  But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.  Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

Being beautiful is a reflection of who we are.  It is our fearfully and wonderfully made inheritance as children of God.  The Song of Songs offers us a portrait love.  A celebration of the body.  We read Song of Songs and explore the passion, image, identity, expression, wholeness, and beauty of our bodies.  These mortal coils are more than reflections of dominate culture bound in violated images of God.  Our bodies are the liberated reminders that we have the courage to unmask the idols of culture and faith and live in to the sacred call of Christ to love and be peace.